Friday, November 30, 2012

Artist Tip #7 - Painting Reflections

We artists often want to add reflections off water or hard, shiny surfaces.  First, some general advice:

  • Reflections always come vertically to the bottom of the picture plane, never at an angle.  This is a very basic difference between reflections and shadows.
  • Reflections can be the same or a different value or color as the object being reflected.  If the reflection is an exact inverted copy of the object, the painting can be confusing, so it's best to adjust some element of the reflection to be different.
  • Reflections, like shadows, look better if they don't perfectly imitate the shape of the object being reflected.
  • Reflections usually have a different view of the reflecting object than the direct view of that object.  Because the light from the object goes down to the reflecting surface and then bounces back up to the viewer's eye, reflections show more of the underside of the object than the direct view does.
  • It's wise to wait until the object itself is painted before painting its reflection, because some objects change as the painting progresses, and the reflection depends upon the object.

Let's first discuss reflections off water.  If the water is rough, the viewer tends to see little reflection of objects, but mostly reflections of the sky or simply a view through the water itself.  So in rough water, don't paint reflections of objects, or at the most, only hint at them, as in this painting, Morning in Maine.

For fairly smooth water, reflections are usually called for.  There are two basic and very different approaches, and the artist needs to decide which is most appropriate for the painting.  The first is a soft, diffuse reflection, normally painted with vertical strokes under the reflecting object.  In watercolor, the already-painted water can be rewet (after it is very dry!) and the vertical reflection paint strokes will diffuse, giving a soft reflection.  This technique is shown in this painting, Quiet Evening:

The second approach to water reflections is to paint hard-edge reflections, which loosely mimic the reflecting object but with some ripples to make the reflection shape interesting.  This technique is shown in this painting, The Red Dinghy:

When adding reflections to a shiny, hard surface, I generally find that a third approach sometimes gives interesting and convincing results.  This is to paint the reflection in rough, vertical strokes, leaving some untouched paper to give the reflection "sparkle".  In addition, when painting reflections on a hard surface, it's important to put some other marks on the surface - for example, lines representing cracks or seams - so it reads as a horizontal surface and not as a vertical surface or as water.  This painting, Fruit, is an example of this approach:

One final suggestion:  when painting any object sitting on a reflecting surface, it is important to paint a very narrow "crevice dark" along the bottom of the object.  If this isn't done, one can give the impression that the object - boat, fruit, person - is floating above the surface.  You can see a crevice dark in all of the example paintings in this post.

No comments: